Queer Classics: “Rocketman” (2019)

After watching Bohemian Rhapsody, I had reservations about going to see Rocketman. While I like Queen’s music, I don’t have the same investment in either them or Freddie Mercury as I do Elton John. I’ve been a diehard Elton fan for decades, and he’s one of the few artists that I have made an effort to see in concert as many times as I can. So, given how thoroughly meh Bohemian turned out to be (how a film about Queen can be so lacking in energy is truly strange), I went in to Rocketman with somewhat low expectations.

Fortunately, I needn’t have worried. Rocketman was everything I wanted and more.

The film begins with Elton John entering a rehabilitation facility. He then narrates his childhood and adolescence, his union with his longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), his tumultuous affair with his manager John Reid (Richard Madden), his heights of glory and the pits of despair.

As with any successful film, casting is everything, and Taren Egerton is an absolute gem in this film. Somehow, through the magic of makeup and his own style, he comes to embody Elton in a way that is, sometimes, truly startling. And, unlike in Bohemian Rhapsody, where Rami Malek was not doing much of the actual singing, here Egerton actually shows off his singing chops. Though he doesn’t have quite the high tenor (nor the falsetto) that was such a hallmark of Elton’s earlier career, he is a very fine singer in his own right, and he does manage to capture some of Elton’s stranger enunciations. There were times that I had begun to think that I was actually watching Elton himself, and if Egerton isn’t at least nominated for an Academy Award for this there is no justice in the world.

It is, in other words, Egerton’s film, though Jamie Bell also deserves honorable mention for his fine turn as Elton’s lyricist Bernie Taupin, and Richard Madden has a fine villainous (and sexy) turn as Elton’s manager/lover John Reid. Everyone else in the film is quite serviceable, though there’s not a great deal of subtlety in Bryce Dallas Howard’s characterization as Elton’s mother, even if she does the best with what the story gives her. Gemma Jones, however, is warm and lovely as Elton’s grandmother, and while she’s not onscreen very long, she makes it clear that she is one of the few sources of genuine stability and love in his life.

Rocketman doesn’t shy away from painting its subject in a very unflattering light. Indeed, as my friend remarked, it’s a little surprising how scathing it is in its depiction of Elton’s lower points, particularly his cruelty toward those in his life who really do seem to care for him. What’s more, it shows us just how far Elton had sunk into a pit of self-loathing by the time that he finally sought our rehabilitation, and how much the heights of success was matched by a depth of despair. This despair, of course, is made all the more wrenching because of Elton’s being forced to live so much of his life in the closet (at least, unlike Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman emphasizes the importance of this fact, including showing a very steamy sex scene between Elton and John Reid).

For all of its darkness, however, Rocketman has many moments of the utopian joy that one frequently associates with the musical genre. I was particularly struck by the choreography and cinematography of “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” which catches up you in Egerton’s enthusiastic performance and the myriad bodies moving with joy through his vocals. Indeed, the film makes it clear that Elton is truly one of those people for whom musical ability is truly a gift, and the many musical numbers, even the ones that occur at his darker moments, are exquisite listening.

Just as importantly, Rocketman highlights how important Elton’s relationship with Bernie Taupin was and remains, even after all of these years. There’s a certain irony about Elton’s oft-repeated claim that the two of them have never had an argument, as it seems that the only reason this is true is because Taupin refuses to engage with Elton’s vicious diatribes. I truly enjoyed seeing Jamie Bell in the role, as I often feel that he doesn’t get enough appreciation as an actor. There is an undeniable chemistry between Egerton and Bell that emerges at numerous points in the film, and it is clear that, for Elton at least, the affection was at first more than brotherly. As the years progress, their relationship deepens and matures, until they are at last brothers in all but blood, and their last scene together is immensely touching.

It’s a little bit funny, but it’s quite astonishing how easily many of Elton’s numbers fit so seamlessly into the narrative that the film constructs (even if their date of composition doesn’t necessarily line up with the film’s chronology). There’s a certain irony about this, however, for the film doesn’t actually use any of the songs from John’s and Taupin’s autobiographical album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. I suspect this is because so many of them are explicitly about his life with Bernie, and it might have felt a bit trite to have song and narrative line up so neatly. However, I was a little sad not to hear Egerton perform “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” (though I was pleased to see the film make use of some of Elton’s deeper cuts).

All in all, I really enjoyed Rocketman. I consider myself an Elton John fan, and to see his early life brought to such astounding life on screen is uniquely pleasurable. One gets the impression that, for Elton at least, this was a deeply personal film, and while I don’t know just how much input he had in its creation, it feels as if Rocketman comes from the heart. Full of emotion, good storytelling, and infectious music, Rocketman is a moving testament to the extraordinary life of one of the greatest musicians of all time.

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Weekly Rant: On Queer Progress

Look, queers, we need to have a talk.

When Taylor Swift’s new music video dropped, I only heard about it tangentially at first, mostly because I’m not a huge fan of her pop music (I know, I know, I’m a monster). However, then I watched it, and I found myself caught up in its utopian delights, with its queer stars, its addictive rhythm, and its vivid colors. And, of course, there was the note at the end encouraging viewers to petition the Senate to pass pro-LGBTQ+ legislation.

There were, of course, the explosion of think pieces taking down Swift for any one of the following: appropriation, shallowness, false pretenses, etc., etc., etc. For many, it was far too simplistic, and to see it as some sort of mark of progress for queer people–or, for that matter, to celebrate Swift’s embrace of her queer fandom. To many, it was just another way that popular culture had appropriated and misused queer identity.

To my mind, the logic underpinning these critiques is flawed for two reasons: one, it’s a music video. By a pop star. OBVIOUSLY it isn’t going to be some masterful polemic. Two, and more importantly, it’s followed by a call to political action. While, of course, it’s unclear just how effective that might be, it seems to me that Swift deserves at least a little bit of credit for encouraging her listener’s to become more politically engaged (considering how young those listeners are, and how many of them there are, this seems to me to be very important).

This takedown of Swift is, of course, part of a broader trend within certain circles of queer left activism that I find troubling for both philosophical and political reasons. There are some who find the recent inclusion of queer people into capitalism and the military (as well as other facets of mainstream progress) a problem because it buys into the system rather than overthrows it (to be replaced with…IDK. Nor do I know how, exactly, such an overthrow would take place).

However valid those criticisms are, to my mind they obscure the progress that has been made and how meaningful that progress is, especially for young queer people. I think it’s a good thing that, in some places, the police are actively embracing the queer community (I, for one, would rather have them on our side than against us). And sure, one can be cynical about the ways in which corporations are now cashing in on Pride Month, but again, I would much rather have them in our corner than otherwise (I also love rainbow swag, but I digress). These things are cultural capital, and it matters that we’ve accrued them.

Don’t misunderstand me. There is a lot of room for reform in the world of policing, and I am not by any stretch of the imagination a military apologist. However, I am not in favor of abolishing the police, nor do I think we gain much by relentlessly vilifying them even when they are doing the things that they are supposed to be doing and acting in good faith. To do so, I would argue, de-incentivizes such groups from helping us when we need it most. Why should they feel the motivation to help us in our times of need when we are so intent on demonizing them even when they don’t deserve it?

I would argue that it is more important now than ever to make sure that those who have power (both real and symbolic) understand and embrace our struggles. Every victory we win makes it easier to continue advocating for the bigger goals that we have. The more the mainstream grows comfortable with various aspects of queer identity–even if that’s just seeing rainbows in a store window–the safer and better our lives become.

Nor is this take-down phenomenon limited to the specifically queer left. We have seen time and time again how politicians who, after deep reflection and after processing input from their constituents, have changed their stance on issues only to be reprimanded for doing so. Hillary Clinton Barack Obama, Joe Biden…all of them changed their tune on LGBTQ+ issues for the better, and they were often criticized for doing so. Because, of course, in this hyper-partisan, puritanical and deeply, pathologically cynical age, anything that smacks of flip-flopping or political expediency must in fact be a sign of some inner moral turpitude and is grounds for expulsion from the herd.

Again, this begs the question: why should we expect our elected representatives to change their positions based on our wishes if, when they do, we then reprimand them for doing the exact thing we supposedly wanted them to do? Obviously, we must continue to hold them accountable, to remind them who it is that they serve, but it also bears repeating that we definitely hurt our chances of politicians taking our needs seriously if we insist on scourging them even when they do the things that we ask them to do. I cannot, for the life of me, understand how anyone thinks that this is a winning strategy.

I suppose the takeaway from all of this is that, as few who know me will be surprised to learn, I’m a radical in philosophy but a moderate in practice. That’s because I accept the reality that, whether I like it or not (and I don’t), there are a myriad of people in this vast country whose views about these issues don’t align directly with my own. Having come to that realization some time ago, I now recognize that, if we really want progressive policies to move ahead in this country, we have got to learn how to talk to people who don’t agree with us. We must remember that, for many people, marriage is fulfilling. For many people, serving in the military is a means of financial survival or a genuine act of patriotism (or both). For many people, seeing Pride merchandise is a reminder of just how far we’ve come.

If I could go back in time to a scared 13-year-old T.J., who scoured the world of popular culture for signs of queer existence, who despaired of politicians ever openly declaring their support for LGBTQ+ (let alone seeing an openly-gay presidential candidate!), who wanted to know that it was okay to be who he was, I’d tell him to that yes, it does indeed get better.

I hope that young queer people coming of age today realize how fortunate they are, and I hope that the world continues its march toward progress and equality.

Book Review: All Politics is Local: Why Progressives Must Fight for the States (by Meaghan Winter)

My thanks to NetGalley for providing me a copy of this book for review. It’s an unfortunate truth that the last few years have seen a hollowing out of Democratic power. From state houses to the nation’s Congress to the Presidency, the forces of the right have been shockingly and distressingly successful at grabbing the levers of power. This is, of course, no accident, as Meaghan Winter reveals in her book All Politics is Local: Why Progressives Must Fight for the States. Indeed, as she points out in frightening detail, the right has been very effective not only in grabbing power, but in ensuring that they keep it, even if it means going against their constituents’ own wishes. The book focuses on three states and the ways in which they have confronted (and been confronted) by these realities: Missouri, Colorado, and Florida. We see numerous egregious examples of Republican abuse of their new power, ranging from gerrymandering (the sheer scale of their effrontery is truly hard to grasp) to a systematic and ruthless rollback of all the things that progressives have fought for (climate change, abortion, and guns are three key issues). It’s hard to say whether Florida or Missouri provides the more glaring object lesson in the outright cynicism that seems to motivate the Republican party these days. In both cases, state governments have done significant damage to both their states and, in the case of Florida, the planet in their mindless service to their right-wing donors. As guilty as Republicans clearly are for this state of affairs, Winter is not shy about showing how Democrats and other national liberal groups have also been negligent in their response. For too long, she argues, Democrats have focused almost exclusively on federal office, which has meant that not only has money been spent on those big-ticket races, but also that they only seem to care about states during major federal election years. Any other time they are forced to fend for themselves, with often disastrous results. Throughout the book, Winter focuses not only on the big picture and on the negative, but also on the hardworking progressive activists, legislators, and donors who have done their part to roll back this seemingly relentless tide. These are the people–mostly but not exclusively young–working long hours (and not getting paid for many of them), while turning themselves to the herculean task of building a society and a government that works for all people rather than the privileged and moneyed few. Though they don’t always win, it is heartening to know that there are still those who believe in a better world and are able and willing to do what it takes to bring it into being. Further, Winter deserves credit for paying just as much attention to their invaluable efforts as she does to those of their cynical counterparts on the right. As we continue to feel the endless buffeting of our democratic norms, All Politics is Local is a timely reminder that all is not lost, that we can take back our future. At the same time, however, it does not shy away from revealing the enormous difficulties that we still face across the electoral map. What’s more, we have to go into this with eyes wide open about the work involved. Progress is not (nor has it ever again) something that is accomplished and then forgotten about. It is a fight that must be constantly pursued in the face of those who would continue gaming the system for their own advantage. Winter’s book makes it clear that we must fight against those forces at every opportunity, and we must not let down our guard. If we do, as we have so often in the past, then we will have only ourselves to blame for the ruin that results. These days, it’s easy to lose sight of the small, local details, caught up as we are in the daily horror show that is the Trump administration and its cynical allies in the Senate. However, if we take the lessons of All Politics is Local to heart, we can, perhaps, make this country, and this world, a better place for everyone to live in.

Book Review: Siege: Trump Under Fire (by Michael Wolff)

Let me be upfront by saying that I had distinctly mixed feelings about Michael Wolff’s last book, Fire and Fury. While it was, admittedly, tremendously entertaining and dreadfully (one might even say sinfully) readable, I ultimately felt that I had not really learned anything. It was mostly just a rehash of existing information, with a few gossipy bits thrown in for spice.

I had many of the same feelings about Siege, the sequel. Very accessible, gossipy, and more than a little soapy, it shows a President, and a White House, always on the brink of utter collapse.

Siege moves along at nothing short of a lightning pace, taking us through the familiar hallmarks of the Trump Presidency: gross incompetence, constant staff infighting, paranoia about the Mueller investigation, etc. However, that very speed is one of the book’s most significant weaknesses, as it denies Wolff the chance to really dig in deep into the material that he usually covers only glancingly. Sometimes, I had the feeling that Wolff was just rather bored with the whole affair and wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible.

As readable as the book is, however, there’s not much in this book that we haven’t already encountered elsewhere, either in traditional news outlets (which I generally find more reliable than Wolff) or in the numerous leaks that seem to be such a hallmark of this administration. This deprives the book of much tension, and by the end I didn’t feel that I’d really learned anything new. More distressingly, what new information there is–most notably Wolff’s claim that Mueller had drawn up an indictment against Trump–has been called into question. It doesn’t really inspire confidence in Wolff’s journalistic ability.

My more major complaint is that Wolff relies entirely too much on Steve Bannon. I find this repellant for a host of reasons, but two are particularly important. Firstly, it remains unclear why, exactly, Wolff relies so much on Bannon’s (profanity-drenched) commentary about Trump and his administration. The obvious answer is that Bannon is one of the few people who will still talk openly to him, but that still leaves one to wonder why Wolff seems to think that he can offer any significant insight on the administration or its doings. Secondly, Wolff commits the crime of elevating Bannon into a status that he most definitely does not deserve, as some sort of oracle that possesses the key to both Trump and his voters. In addition, Bannon just comes across as a grouchy old man who likes to swear a lot and has a very high opinion of himself (one which Wolff clearly shares).

Structurally, the book doesn’t ever quite seem to have a sense of what exactly its governing principle is. There is rarely a sense of cohesion between one chapter and the next, and it sometimes feels as if Wolff is merely jumping to whatever subject seemed to catch his attention at that particular moment (a phenomenon not dissimilar to what Trump himself does). One gets the feeling that this book was a bit of a rush job and, in my opinion, it could definitely have done with some more time to be sculpted into a coherent narrative rather than a series of simultaneously hilarious and alarming vignettes.

Where the book succeeds, arguably, is in its ability to get into Trump’s psychology (as much as any work will ever be able to do so). Wolff has a keen eye for the foibles that make Trump tick and that remain key to his persona. Throughout Siege, Trump emerges as a very paranoid and inept figure, one whose confidence comes from his extraordinary good luck and his ability to survive the sorts of stumbles that would be the end of any other politician (or other public figure). And, of course, the real best thing about the book is that, like its predecessor, it will no doubt get under Trump’s skin.

All that said, I will assert the same thing that I did about Fire and Fury. If even a third of what Wolff asserts is true about Trump’s state of mind, we are in very deep trouble. But, as the bookshop clerk responded when I said this to her: “I think we’re already in a lot of trouble.”

Reading History: “How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States (by Daniel Immerwahr)

It’s become commonplace in certain circles–particularly the academy–to point out that, throughout the 20th and 21st Centuries America has practiced a form of imperialism, exporting its ideas and way of life throughout the globe, often at the point of a sword (or, more accurately, the barrel of a gun). There is, of course, a great deal of truth to the idea that the United States exerts a substantial influence on the world via ideas and military intervention rather than traditional colonialism. However, as Daniel Immerwahr argues in his new book How to Hide and Empire: A History of the Greater United States, far too little attention has been paid to the territorial possessions that this country has accrued throughout its existence, and his book sets out to correct that.

I’ve long been a fan of popular history. Don’t get me wrong, as a scholar and aspiring academic I definitely still see the value of academic history written for and published by university presses. However, there’s a certain vitality about history intended for mainstream audiences that you don’t (often) find in books written by and for academic audiences and researchers. Fortunately for those of us who devour such things, Immerwahr (a trained history and associate professor of history at Northwestern) manages to combine scholarly rigour with an eye for engaging storytelling.

Thus, How to Hide an Empire is compulsively readable, not just because its subject matter is still so tremendously pertinent, but also because Immerwahr has a strong grasp of both narrative pacing and language. He moves at a breakneck speed through the history of American colonization, yet he also manages to drill down into the details of such far-flung territories as Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico (as well as those territories, such as Oklahoma, Alaska, and Hawai’i that ultimately became states). It also details how, in the decades after the Second World War, the U.S. relied more on technology, transportation, and culture to exert its imperial influence on the world.

One of the book’s great strengths is its emphasis on the ways in which the United States, despite its protestations to the contrary, has from its very beginnings been a territorial empire. Indeed, this “greater United States” (as Immerwahr calls it) was often key to the national interest, whether that was militarily (both Alaska and Hawai’i were, after all, very close to Japan), cultural, or social. In doing so, he also points out how long-lasting these territorial acquisitions were, and he reveals some aspects of the colonial story that many Americans have forgotten. I daresay that, if I were to ask a dozen random strangers whether they knew that the Philippines had been a part of the United States for much of the 20th Century, they would say no. Indeed, as Immerwahr points out again and again, those living in the mainland remain startlingly (one might even say frighteningly) ignorant not just of the fact of U.S. empire, but also of the gruesome atrocities that were being committed on American soil.

How to Hide an Empire peels away the self-mythologizing that Americans so consistently engage in to convince themselves that the U.S. is unlike all of those other countries that conquered so much of the globe in the 19th Century. It forces us to confront the ugly realities of American territorial violence, while also paying attention to the ways in which those living in those territories have fought back against their oppression. Though they did not always succeed in their ambitions, they nevertheless reminded the powers that be on the mainland that they were not to be idly used and abused by their colonial overlords.

The book also points out the fundamental injustices that still characterize the mainland’s relationship with its territories. Those living in those places may (in most cases, except for American Samoa) be United States citizens, but they are denied the right to congressional representation or to vote for president. To my mind, the fact that these injustices continue to go on without people on the mainland taking to the streets in protest, tells you all you need to know about how terrible this system remains.

How to Hide an Empire is necessary reading for anyone who wants to learn about the ways in which the United States has always been an empire, even as it has so completely convinced its own citizens that it isn’t.

Fantasy Classics: Kushiel’s Dart (by Jacqueline Carey)

Darcy and Winters

Continuing on with my reviews of classics of fantasy literature, I’m turning my attention to the Kushiel series of books by Jacqueline Carey. The books, which were published throughout the 2000s and 2010s, have a (well-earned) reputation for managing to really do something new and exciting within the genre of epic fantasy. Combining elements of historical fiction, epic fantasy, and erotica, the series of books explores various issues related to politics, power, and desire.

Young woman Phédre is marked by a red mote in her eye known as Kushiel’s Dart, a sign that she is blessed (or cursed) to feel pain as pleasure. Sold into a form of indentured servitude by her impoverished parents, she eventually enters the sevice of the noble Delaunay, she quickly becomes adept in the art of politics and the bedchamber. Betrayed by the clever and cruel noblewoman Melisande, Phedre finds herself among the barbarian Skaldi…

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Film Review: Aladdin (2019)

Going into this year’s live-action remake of Aladdin, I was full of misgivings. The trailers really didn’t do the film any favours, and it looked like it was going to be a very cheap-looking film. Having watched the film, I can say that some of those fears were ultimately realized; the film, for its enormous budget, does often appear awfully small. This is, ultimately, the problem of producing this particular type of fantasy film in a “real” environment. While 2-D animation allows for a truly magical world to explode to life on the screen, these live-action/CGI hybrids, somewhat paradoxically, are often strangely limited in their representation.

For all of that, I actually found myself enjoying the film more than I anticipated, and a great deal of that enjoyment stems from the undeniable charisma and chemistry of the three leads: Aladdin (Mena Masoud), Jasmine (Naomi Scott), and of course the Genie (Will Smith). Masoud is, to put it bluntly, absolutely adorable, and he really seems to have fun in the role. He’s charming and awkward in all of the right ways. Scott, likewise, brings a political bite to the character of Jasmine that wasn’t really present in the original; in fact, she wants to be sultan in her own right, rather than settling as a consort.

And, for his part, Will Smith really owns the role of the Genie. Since no one could ever compare to the screwball, rapid-fire power that Robin Williams brought to the role, Smith opts instead to make it his own. There’s no denying that Smith has that certain sort of charm that has made him such a compelling star for so long, and he brings all of that to bear as Genie. Admittedly, it is still rather odd to see him as the big blue character but, thankfully, the film frequently opts to show him as a fully human character, which mitigates that strangeness.

Plot-wise, film hits the same points as the 1992 film, though there are a few significant differences. For one thing, the film fleshes out Jafar’s backstory–making him a former pickpocket who clawed his way up to the pinnacle of political power. However, that backstory just doesn’t do enough to lift the character into the same realm as he was in the animated film. Marwan Kenzari is fine as far as he goes, but he lacks the screen heft to do anything new or interesting with the role. (Though I hate to say it, his voice just isn’t the right fit for Jafar. Jonathan Freeman, who voiced the character in the 1992 film, made him a far, far more interesting villain). And, unfortunately, this Jafar is significantly less queer than his predecessor.

This defanging of a villain is very much in keeping with the other live-action remakes that we have seen or are going to see. Luke Evans, bless him, doesn’t even come close to capturing the hyperbolic and camp masculinity of his predecessor, and it looks like Scar of the new The Lion King will lack the scenery-chewing queerness of Jeremy Irons’s rendition of the character. While some might greet this as a good thing, I beg to differ, as it robs these villains of the very thing that makes them so compelling and, well, fun.

That’s not to say that Aladdin isn’t fun. Unencumbered by the slavish devotion to re-staging every scene (the fatal flaw of Beauty and the Beast) and with Guy Ritche at the helm, the film is very confident in itself. Ritchie has a very distinctive visual style, and while I wouldn’t say that Aladdin puts these to maximal effect, there are a few flourishes that stand out. And, aside from everything else, Aladdin is just a fun film, one that doesn’t always take itself so seriously.

Enjoyable as it is, it’s worth pointing out that the film still has its problems with representation. Like its predecessor, this film trades (very unreflexively) in Orientalism. As a friend of mine pointed out, it’s just sort of a mishmash of sundry “Eastern” cultures, with no real sense of cultural specificity. Thus, whatever strides forward it makes in terms of racial representation–the cast is, thankfully, almost completely non-white–is undercut by these other issues. As that same friend pointed out, it would definitely help Disney to have a few people in positions of power to point out how woefully tone-deaf they can be (though I’m still not convinced it’s possible to do a version of this story that isn’t fundamentally Orientalist). While we’re on the subject of race: what in the hell was Billy Magnusson doing in that movie? Seriously, does anyone know?

Overall, I’d say that Aladdin is a fine remake. If this is the direction in which Disney is taking these live-action remakes, I think that bodes well for how successful The Lion King will be. Will it hold up the way that it’s predecessor has? Probably not, but for now, it’s an enjoyable enough magic carpet ride.

Book Review: “The Fall of Shannara: The Stiehl Assassin” (by Terry Brooks)

Darcy and Winters

Note: Some plot spoilers like ahead!

When it comes to the giants of fantasy, Terry Brooks is right up there with the greats. His book The Sword of Shannara, as well as the sprawling series that it spawned, helped nudge fantasy into the realm of financially viable genre rather than an idle curiosity. Now, 40-odd years later, we are coming to the chronological end of the Shannara saga, and the Four Lands stand on the precipice of catastrophe. The Skaar have invaded and are engaged in a tense standoff with the powerful Federation. However, new Ard Rhys Drisker Arc has a plan to (hopefully) avert the all-out war that seems inevitable, but to see it to completion he must enlist the aid of the Kaynin siblings, the boy Shea Ohmsford, the warrior Dar Leah, and the Elven prince Brecon Elessedil. Even then, his efforts might yet be thwarted by the…

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Searching for Studio Style in Contemporary Gay Porn

Regular readers of this blog probably know that I have a longstanding interest in gay porn. Obviously, like many gay men, I have a libidinal interest in watching it (a lot of it is quite hot), but as a scholar of film and queer theory, my interest in it is also an intellectual one (it’s fascinating how porn reveals so much about who we are and how we think about and feel desire). And, if I’m being completely honest, my posts about porn have been some of my most popular, so why not continue writing about it?

There are many things that I find endlessly fascinating (and, ahem, stimulating) about porn: the erotic component, the ways in which audiences engage with it (particularly in the era of social media), the star system it employs, its methods of distribution. Most importantly for this particular blog post (and the ones to follow), however, is the question of “style.” Now, it might seem counterintuitive to use a word like “style” with a genre like gay porn. After all, to many people, even academics, porn as an object of study exists somewhat beyond the pale of respectable company. To think about something like style would, I think, be to challenge the codes of taste that still govern how we think about pornography, elevating it to a position that perhaps doesn’t deserve.

I would like to suggest, however, that by focusing on the particular styles of various gay porn studios we can learn a great deal about the types of pleasures that they aim to offer their viewers. Given how central gay porn is to many gay men’s experience of the world, to say nothing of how they learn about sex, it seems to me especially important to understand the ways in which they do so. Like the classic Hollywood studios of old, today’s porn studios are very much in the business of cultivating, and catering to, specific tastes among their various audiences. And, as with classic Hollywood, one can get a strong sense of the way a studio views the world, as well as the ways in which they encourage their consumers to do the same.

In a subsequent series of posts, I plan to spotlight several of the gay porn studios that I most frequently watch. Some potential subjects will be TimTales, Sean Cody, Corbin Fisher, GuysInSweatpants, Helix, and RawStrokes (yes, these are all real names of porn studios). Though I have a preference for those “minor” studios that have come up in the last ten years or so to challenge the hegemony of their titanic predecessors, I will, I think, also be focusing on some of the heavy hitters in the industry, if only because they provide such a marked contrast to their newer counterparts.

Each post will focus on the “house style” of a studio. They will focus on issues like cinematography (strange as it seems, most studios can be identified simply by looking at their camerawork), their stars or star types (indeed, the type of model they employ is frequently one major way in which studios differentiate themselves), and the type of sex they focus on (also a significant marker of brand differentiation). Doing so will, I hope, shed some much-needed light on the crucial differences (and similarities) between and among these purveyors of desire.

Book Review: “A Brightness Long Ago” (by Guy Gavriel Kay)

Another review from my alter-ego.

Darcy and Winters

I’ve been a big fan of Guy Gavriel Kay’s for a long time now. He has such a command of language, and his books always manage to pierce the heart with their beauty and their engagement with the deeper, philosophical questions.

A Brightness Long Ago, set in the same world as several of his other books (The Lions of Al-Rassan, The Last Light of the Sun, Sailing for Sarantium and Lord of Emperors, Children of Earth and Sky), is a true gem, a pleasure to read from beginning to end. It is, in many ways, a prequel to 2016’s Children of Earth and Sky, and some of the characters make repeat appearances.

It is set in Batiara, a country splintered into dozens of squabbling city-states, most of which employ large groups of mercenaries to conduct proxy wars with one another. Into this nest of vipers fall several characters, two…

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